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EDITORIAL: Liberal groups want tax hikes during a pandemic

Updated December 6, 2020 - 9:00 pm

In addition to a mounting death toll, the COVID pandemic has unleashed untold hardship on Nevada’s economy, forcing layoffs and business closures, with more to come. But even with faltering tax revenues, don’t expect a similar reckoning in the public sector.

On Thursday, the Nevada Economic Forum issued its revised budget forecasts, which will guide Gov. Steve Sisolak and lawmakers when they craft the state’s spending plan for the 2021 legislative session. The revenue estimates weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been given the circumstances. Members of the panel project that Nevada will generate about $8.5 billion in tax revenue over the next budget cycle, down just 4 percent from the current biennium.

Predictably, even this modest reduction led to howls from the usual suspects. On Wednesday, a coalition of largely left-leaning organizations decried as “catastrophic” Gov. Sisolak’s order that state agencies reduce their budget requests by 12 percent. Such hyperbole highlights the left’s increasing detachment from the reality that a vibrant private sector is necessary to pay the state’s bills. Even during a pandemic, these advocates insist that government spending accelerate its skyward climb.

In truth, nobody is asking for 12 percent cuts. The reductions apply to state agency wish lists, which if left untouched would push Nevada’s budget up by 10 percent over the next cycle. That’s a pipe dream, given how the current economic climate has devastated Strip tourism, the state’s meal ticket. And it’s worth noting that an $8.5 billion spending plan for the 2021-23 biennium remains higher than the $8.25 billion state budget passed in 2017.

But the special pleaders weren’t done. In a letter to the governor, the coalition — which comprises 60 groups, including many progressive organizations and unions — urged lawmakers to find new sources of revenue in order to prevent expenditures from falling. Tellingly, they balk at identifying their targets.

“Increasing revenue rather than cutting programs and services will not only help Nevadans today,” the letter argues, “it will also help ensure our economy recovers as soon as possible and will set a stronger foundation to help guard us against future economic downturns.”

The logic is straight out of “Alice in Wonderland.” The key to preserving the Nevada economy is to shake down businesses when many of them are straining to survive? Where do they think tax revenue comes from, the Monopoly factory?

Nevada’s private sector workers and companies have borne the brunt of this pandemic. There’s no reason state agencies should be immune from budget realities. The emergence of a vaccine offers hope that the fiscal pain will abate in coming months, but if agencies must make sacrifices, so be it. And any state lawmaker who advocates for tax hikes during these trying times will be on a suicide mission.

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